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Joey Kennedy

Opinion | Let’s march: The #Neveragain reckoning on guns

Joey Kennedy

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The second best news for me this week is that the Alabama Legislature isn’t going to do the knee-jerk thing of passing a law that’ll allow teachers to carry guns into the classroom, as a deterrent to some lunatic who might attack a school to massacre students.

The protection of our students from a mad gunman isn’t a teacher’s responsibility; it’s law enforcement’s – those trained to do that. I don’t want a school resource officer teaching the writing process or Robert Frost; the parents of my students don’t want me packing heat on the chance some nut is going to barge into my classroom shooting.

Besides, I have wasp spray.

The news that, at least for this year, the Legislature has some sanity on the arming-teachers-issue couldn’t come at a better time for the outstanding young people organizing and planning Saturday’s March for Our Lives events across the nation.

That’s the best news this week.

This movement started fewer than six weeks ago, after the Valentine’s Day massacre at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla., where 17 students and teachers were killed and others injured.

The impressive students at Douglas High said: “Enough! Never Again!”

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Sadly, since that tragic day Feb. 14, there have been other school shootings, including one right here in Birmingham, at Huffman High School, where a young woman who wanted to be a nurse died when a gun went off at the school.

Just this week, a Maryland high school was the scene of another shooting, where two students were injured and the shooter killed.

Will it ever be “Never Again”?

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Probably not. But that doesn’t mean something can’t be done to lower the risk of this all-too-common devastation on our nation.

Saturday in Birmingham, we’ll have a March for Our Lives event that is expected to attract between 3,000 to 5,000 people. There will be a rally starting at 2 p.m. at Railroad Park, followed by the march. This is in conjunction with the national March for Our Lives event in Washington, D.C., and more than 725 marches across the nation and another 80-plus marches around the world in solidarity with the Marjory Stoneman Douglas students who ignited this movement.

#NeverAgain. #MSDStrong. #BanAssaultRifles

Those hashtags have been trending. They remain popular. And these young people are not going away. They’re scaring the National Rifle Association-owned politicians who want to be re-elected. Many of these “kids” will be voting this year, and that doesn’t bode well for the NRA politicians’ careers.

Still, those politicians are so afraid of the NRA they have done very little to ban all-access to military style weapons or bump stocks or huge ammunition magazines or even to allow the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to study gun violence as the serious health issue it is.

These politicians and the NRA have blood on their hands. The blood of our children. The blood of our teachers.

Blood.

So Saturday, in Washington, D.C., and in Birmingham, Alabama, and in other cities in Alabama and in cities and towns across the nation and world, the children will march.

Ashley Causey, a senior at Helena High School, has been instrumental in organizing Birmingham’s march. No doubt, these teens will be happy they won’t have to worry about their teachers being armed, at least for the next year.

Teachers with dry-erase markers and a Glock .45? Please.

“No, definitely not,” said Causey this week. “We’re strongly against teachers having guns.”

This teacher is against teachers having guns, too. C’mon, we have papers to grade.

Causey and her peers, in less than six weeks, have organized a march, gathered people to offer voter registration and other services, raised nearly $10,000, and can’t wait for Saturday’s event.

Get there early; it’s going to be crowded.

But it’s not just the size of a crowd. Causey said there are events that have 30 or fewer people involved.

“Even the smallest group of people, if you are impassioned enough and determined, can make a difference,” Causey said. She and her peers certainly have.

Saturday’s March for Our Lives in Birmingham will start with a rally. Speakers include both students and adults – law enforcement, involved teens, teachers, kids with gun-violence experience, involved teens, and, of course, involved teens. This is mainly a student-led movement.

The primary purpose is to advocate for responsible gun restrictions, but Causey is clear:

“We’re open to anybody who wants any type of reform,” she said. Security will be tight at the event, but it’s open to all who want to see the gun culture in this state and country change, those who want to help ensure kids can go to school, and anybody can go to the movies, or to a nightclub, or to church, or to a music festival, without a serious threat of being killed by a shooter.

And here’s what matters most:

“You would have thought with Newtown (Conn., Sandy Hook), that would have been the breaking point,” Causey said. But, “I think this (Parkland, Fla.) has affected a group of people who are not going to stand down. We’re not going to let this get lost in the news. I don’t think that’s going to happen any more.

“We want to be sure we have a lasting effect,” Causey said.

Spring Break might have just ended; Saturday’s marches are just the beginning.

The NRA, many conservative politicians, conspiracy theorists, gun nuts, and others, have already underestimated these amazing Millennials.

Well, they do so at their own risk.

Joey Kennedy, a Pulitzer Prize winner, writes a column every week for Alabama Political Reporter. Email: [email protected]

 

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Opinion | Tommy, can you hear me?

Joey Kennedy

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Republican U.S. Senate candidate Tommy Tuberville. (VIA TUBERVILLE CAMPAIGN)

That Morning Consult poll of Alabama voters that showed Republican Tommy Tuberville with a 17-point lead over incumbent Democratic Sen. Doug Jones for the U.S. Senate was such a stunner, a Jones campaign aide rushed out an email fundraiser trying to quell any panic.

Until now, most polls have shown Jones to be competitive against an unnamed Republican and, specifically, Tuberville, the former Auburn football coach who defeated Jeff Sessions to win the Republican nomination.

“I would never respond to an outside poll, but a new poll is out there showing Doug Jones losing by … wait for it … 17 points,” writes Joe Trippi, senior adviser for the Doug Jones for Senate campaign.

“Here is my comment,” Trippi writes. “No way.”

Unfortunately, in Alabama, there is a way.

Republicans in the state tend to vote straight ticket in overwhelming numbers. Alabama is one of a handful of states that even allows straight-ticket voting, but the reality is, it does. So voters who want to cast their ballot for, say, Donald Trump in November, but who also like Jones, will have to split their ticket.

The Morning Consult poll showed that a large number of independent voters are undecided, and that could swing the election toward Jones. But straight-party voting can be a hope killer.

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Not yet, though. It’s still early. The election is still nearly three months away. We’ve not seen Tuberville do much of anything but bow before Trump, who endorsed him over his former attorney general. But that’s Trump loyalty for you.

Indeed, the country is going so poorly right now, one wonders other than the hard-core racists, who still supports Trump.

I know, I know: Alabama is different (plus, we still have more than our share of hard-core racists). But c’mon, folks, more than 157,300 Americans are dead from the COVID-19 pandemic, completely mismanaged by the Trump administration. There have been more than 4.7 million cases. In Alabama, there have been more than 90,000 cases and more than 1,600 deaths.

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Meanwhile, the U.S. and Alabama economies are in shambles and getting worse, not better. Trump has sided with Confederate statues and flags over eliminating the systemic racism found in police departments and other government agencies. Plus, most recently, Trump sent his secret army of unidentified goons to sweep protesters off the streets in American cities.

Trump is nobody’s friend but his own.

Then there’s Tuberville. A decent if mediocre football coach, Tuberville certainly is no Nick Saban. Tuberville isn’t even a Gus Malzahn.

Sessions tried to argue that Tuberville wasn’t a resident of Alabama, either, but that’s not fair. Where Sessions is concerned, unfair is a character trait.

While Tuberville does maintain properties in Florida, he and his wife have owned a home in Auburn for at least three years. Too, they both are registered voters in Alabama, though Sessions said Tuberville cast his ballot in Florida during the 2018 midterms.

What’s more important is where Tuberville stands on the issues. And that, we don’t know much about. We know Jones is a moderate who works with members of both parties. He clearly represents Alabama’s best interests as well as any U.S. senator who has served from Alabama.

Though the loons try to paint Jones as a liberal-socialist-communist bogeyman, he’s nowhere close. Certainly, he’s different from Sessions, who held that Senate seat for two decades before becoming Trump’s attorney general. He’s different from Sessions in that he actually gets legislation through the Senate. Sessions mainly interfered with progress while a senator.

The first U.S. senator to support Trump’s candidacy, Sessions identified with Trump most likely because they’re both die-hard racists. Trump rewarded that loyalty by back-stabbing Sessions out of Washington.

At some point, though, Tuberville must make his positions clear, and not simply that he’ll support anything Trump does. That would be a disaster for Alabama, as much as Trump is a disaster for the United States.

The former Auburn University football coach can’t just continue being a sycophant for Trump, whose own poll numbers are tanking and who is likely not going to win re-election.

Should Alabama send a Republican to represent the state with a Democratic president, a likely Democratic Senate and a solidly Democratic House? That would be useless.

But Trippi, in his email, did show how Tuberville wins easily: “One bad poll turns all of us off … you write the race off, and Tuberville coasts to victory because no one is paying attention,” says Trippi. “Everyone abandons Alabama except Mitch McConnell, who is ALL IN to beat Doug. The proof is in the money he (McConnell) is spending now.”

It’s true that McConnell is working hard to unseat Jones to protect Republicans’ wobbly control of the U.S. Senate, and if they weren’t concerned that Jones has a good shot at winning re-election, McConnell would spend that campaign money in another state.

Tuberville must do more than hide behind Trump. We need to hear Tuberville’s plan, where he stands on the issues and what he’ll bring to Alabama that Jones hasn’t already.

Let’s hear it, Coach Tommy. But you’ll have to scoot back a bit first.

 

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Opinion | The inevitable is inevitable

Joey Kennedy

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President Donald Trump

Donald Trump, in full panic mode – and that’s dangerous for the nation – floated the idea Thursday morning in (of course) a tweet that perhaps the Nov. 3 election should be delayed.

We knew it was coming. One event Trump does not want this year is an election. He’s completely bungled the federal (and state) response to the COVID-19 pandemic, and, in fact, made it much worse. More than 150,000 Americans are dead; hundreds of thousands more permanently injured. That’s because Trump basically golfed, held rallies, touted fake cures and treatments for the virus, and, as a result, destroyed the economy and hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of American lives.

Of course, Trump wants to delay the election. He’s so dim, he believes that’s the only way he can stay in office. Except, like on most things, he’s wrong. The president’s term ends Jan. 20, 2021. After that, if there isn’t a president to inaugurate, that opens the possibility House Speaker Nancy Pelosi could become president. That is choice.

But it won’t happen. Because the November General Election will not be delayed. The president can’t do it on his own. It takes an act of Congress to move an election. Remember, too, that if the presidential election is delayed, so are the congressional races. That could conceivably keep Republicans in control of the Senate when an election could very well give that control to Democrats.

That won’t happen, either. Because the November General Election will not be delayed.

Besides, this nation held elections during the U.S. Civil War and in world wars and during other crises and pandemics.

My bet is both of Alabama’s U.S. senators, Richard Shelby and Doug Jones, will oppose moving the election. Jones, a Democrat, is on the ballot against Trump sycophant and former Auburn football coach Tommy Tuberville. Jones wants the matchup, because he’s faring well in the polls, and he’s clearly the far better candidate. Shelby is a pragmatist. He knows in the long run (and short run, for that matter), there’s only a dead end for Trump. Shelby usually will go along to get along, but he broke ranks with other mainstream Republican politicians in 2017 by opposing the election of alleged child predator and former Alabama Chief Justice Roy Moore.

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Too bad other Alabama Republicans in Congress are so far up Trump’s ample bootie that they won’t stand up to him. That’s the way of Republicans, though: Party over country; billionaires over the workaday folks. Weirdly, in Alabama, most common folks support Republicans who want to keep them on the margins; Republicans, who want to keep them in their “place.”

Here’s the real reason Trump would like to see the election postponed:

Trump is terrified. The most important factor to him in the election is himself, and he’s going to get clobbered, if polls hold.He needs to somehow save face if there is any way possible, and there likely isn’t any way possible. Every day Trump spouts something else offensive, or insulting, or just plain stupid and idiotic. He supports Confederate flags and generals and statues, sends secret police to round up Black Lives Matter protesters, then refuses to accord proper respect to honor the late U.S. Rep. John Lewis, an Alabama native and one of the most distinguished civil rights leaders in the nation.

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Former Presidents Bill Clinton, George W. Bush, and Barack Obama attended Lewis’ final memorial in Atlanta on Thursday. Trump suggested we delay November’s election.

Every day, Trump’s support wanes.

The economy is close to complete collapse, and Republicans in the Senate and the president can’t figure out the next COVID-19 aid package to help hurting Americans. Democrats in the House passed a plan more than a month ago, a plan to keep unemployment benefits flowing, to support schools, to increase COVID-19 testing. The Republican plan has billions for fighter aircraft, a new FBI building near Trump’s Washington hotel, and, yes, more tax breaks for the nation’s richest people. Oh, and it slashes federal unemployment support for those workaday Americans from $600 a week to $200 a week. A $1,600 a month pay cut. Nice.

Trump and Republicans have walled themselves into a bad place, and, unlike the president’s boondoggle border wall, this wall isn’t easily scaled or breached.

Republicans, and especially Trump, want to delay the inevitable. But here’s the problem with that: The inevitable is, yes, inevitable.

 

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Opinion | The “in crowd” needs to get out

Joey Kennedy

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I am about to say something nice about Alabama Secretary of State John Merrill. But, still, before this column is over, he’ll most likely get triggered, write a press release on secretary of state stationery, taking my column out of context and arguing that he’s not a supporter of voter suppression.

But, of course, Merrill not only supports it, he goes to court to protect it. Voter suppression is the Republican strategy across the country for eking out elections; otherwise, Republicans could hardly win in many places based on their platform, which includes the following: racism, xenophobia, homophobia, misogyny – basically, white supremacy.

Oh, of course, none of that is written in the “platform,” but actions always speak louder than words. Look at the Republican Party’s actions – and silence; most Republicans clearly fawn over their dear leader, Donald Trump.

I about lost my lunch this week when U.S. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (Racist-Kentucky) took to the Senate floor to praise the just-passed U.S. Rep. John Lewis, D-Georgia. Do these people have any shame? McConnell has been sitting on a bill to fix the Voting Rights Act for more than 225 days, and still sits on it today, after praising Lewis.

Oh, that reminds me, another plank in the Republican platform: hypocrisy.

Back to Merrill: On Monday, Merrill extended the option to use COVID-19 as an excuse to vote by absentee ballot through the Nov. 3 general election.

That is a good decision, and Alabama voters like me – who worry they could contract the virus and pass it on to more vulnerable people, like my wife of 40 years who has a suppressed immune system – have one fewer issue to stress out about during this totally whacky year.

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Thank you, Mr. Secretary. I will, indeed, jump through the hoops required to get and cast an absentee ballot, and my wife will do the same.

“Amid coronavirus concerns, it is important to remember that Alabamians who are concerned about contracting or spreading an illness have the opportunity to avoid the polls on Election Day by casting an absentee ballot,” Merrill said in the press release.

Merrill does give us permission to tell a little white lie as we apply for our ballots. He says we can just check this excuse: “I have a physical illness or infirmity which prevents my attendance at the polls. [ID REQUIRED]”

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Honestly, neither my wife nor I are physically unable to go to the polls. But our exposure to a potential virus infection will compel us to check that excuse, wink-wink.

Now here’s what is going to trigger Merrill: Why isn’t he more of an advocate for making it easier, not more difficult, to vote? Just this week, again, he was singing the praises of the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals decision to uphold Alabama’s voter ID law. Earlier this year, Merrill and Attorney General Steve Marshall fought against allowing folks to cast their ballots curb side. They fought mandatory mask orders at the polls.

Merrill should be advocating for mail-in voting (not absentee) and for early voting and for easy voting and for easy access to Alabama’s ballot for candidates. But even he knows that the more voters who vote make it more difficult for his party to win.

In-person voter fraud is rare; indeed, most voter fraud occurs with absentee ballots, when it occurs at all. But Merrill and other Republican election officials (and, of course, Trump) live for that myth. What they know is that the more barriers they erect to voting, the fewer voters will turn out, and the better chance Republicans will have. Sometimes it only takes a few voters to stay home to turn an election.

Trump took the 2016 election by winning narrow margins in some key battleground states, even as he lost the popular vote by nearly 3 million votes.

As of this writing, Trump is down in polling in every one of those battleground states, so voter suppression is definitely a key strategy Republicans will use in an attempt to get Trump re-elected this fall.

The challenge this election for Republicans, though, is that voters aren’t nearly as enthusiastic about voting FOR Joe Biden as they are enthusiastic about voting AGAINST Donald Trump.He’s kind of wore out his welcome for most everybody but racists.

That’s because when your platform is basically one of hate, you’re going to piss off a lot of different groups. This president, indeed, is defending the Confederate flag and Confederate Civil War generals and Confederate statues. He’s sending unidentified federal policing teams into cities to stop peaceful protests and fire tear gas and flashbangs at moms.

Plus, Trump has so mishandled the federal response to the COVID-19 pandemic that more than 140,000 Americans have died, more than 3 million have been infected, and thousands more are suffering permanent health damage from their infections.

Can somebody read the room that badly and still expect to win? Trump says he believes he can win, so he’s more dangerous than ever.

Secretary of State Merrill seems to be a smart person, so it’s puzzling that he’d fall in with such a crowd. But, then, maybe not. Maybe it is his crowd, and he’s as complicit as most other Republicans.

It won’t be the first time an Alabama politician is on the wrong side of history.

 

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Opinion | Voting doesn’t have to be a health risk

Joey Kennedy

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(STOCK PHOTO)

My vote was suppressed Tuesday. I didn’t vote because I was not going to submit myself to walking into a polling station, even masked, during a coronavirus pandemic that is raging out of control.

There were attempts to require masks of voters and poll workers. It’s the law in Jefferson County. But Secretary of State John H. Merrill and State Attorney General Steve Marshall opposed that. I could have participated in curbside voting, as one judge ordered, but Merrill and Marshall fought that in the courts, too, and won.

Hardly a better example of active voter suppression than going to the courts to make sure voting is as difficult as possible.

Yes, I could have applied for an absentee ballot, but there are hurdles there, too. The only real race on the Democratic Party ballot was one for Jefferson County Treasurer. So I let my vote be suppressed. Without a pandemic, I would have just run into my polling place and out, taking less than five minutes.

Sometimes, when you have a wife whose immune system is compromised, it’s better to keep a low profile and not be present where the disease may have a presence. I don’t miss voting in many elections, but I decided this one just posed too many risks for me to participate.

So Merrill’s voter suppression strategy worked, at least on me. Congratulations, Mr. SoS! Your Republican masters are no doubt very proud of you.

Actually, voter turnout was just above 17 percent, according to Merrill’s office, which for a runoff postponed from March and during a COVID-19 surge probably isn’t too bad. Turnouts have been worse during times free of pandemic.

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And not just to pick on Merrill – I do that because he knows there are many barriers to folks having an easy route to voting in Alabama, but he acts like there aren’t – but the biggest voter suppressor on Tuesday was the pandemic. The Democratic Party runoff was pretty low-profile, except for a U.S. House runoff in the First District.

The featured event was the Republican Party runoff for the U.S. Senate nomination between former Attorney General Jeff Sessions, trying to win his old Senate seat back, and former Auburn football coach Tommy Tuberville, a political novicewho doesn’t seem to have a clue. It wasn’t much of a campaign. Tuberville pretty much spouted platitudes about Donald Trump and little else, while Sessions spent most of his time pathetically begging voters to return him to the post he held for two decadesbefore selling out to Trump, who later stabbed Sessions in the back and endorsed Tuberville.

Tuberville won handily, and will face Sen. Doug Jones, the Democrat, on Nov. 3. Don’t count out Jones, though a lot of people already have. Jones, no left-wing liberal by any measure, is a scrapper who won’t go down without a fight, even though his Senate seat is considered the most vulnerable for Democrats this election year. But at some point, Tuberville is going to have to do something besides praise Trump, whose poll numbers are in free fall, and on the issues, Tuberville is nowhere near Jones’ league.

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Now we wait for the Nov. 3 General Election, where Trump is up against former Vice President Joe Biden. Biden is ahead in the polls, even in some states that haven’t voted Democratic in a while. But as we saw with Democrat Hillary Clinton in 2016, Democrats cannot be cocky; too often, they find a way to blow an election.

There are all sorts of character flaws in Trump, including that he’s an unabashed racist. But he is a good campaigner, especially to his base. True, that base doesn’t generally feature the sharpest minds around, but they do turn out, and won’t be deterred even with the current plague running amok.

Should Biden select an African-American woman as his vice president, and if Biden’s campaign continues working hard across the country to make sure his voters show up, the former vice president could win in a landslide. But not if voters, especially suburban women and African Americans, don’t go to the polls.

Turnout will be the key, and there’s nothing to indicate that on Nov. 3 we still won’t be in the throes of this damned virus that has disrupted everybody’s lives.

Yes, Trump mishandled the response to COVID-19. But he’s made it clear where the virus is concerned, he’s done. The 135,000-plus American deaths doesn’t move him at all. He argues that if we just didn’t test as much, we wouldn’t have as many virus cases. That’s a ridiculous statement, and he’s been ridiculed for it. The cases are there whether we test or not. Trump is more than just goofy; he’s mentally unstable.

So from now to November, Merrill should be working with the governor and other state officials to come up with a plan to make voting safe and easy. The best alternative, of course – the one that scares Republicans to death – is mail-in ballots. But Merrill and others will complain that risks voter fraud, a claim never substantiated in any significant way by the Republicans who are masters at voter suppression.

In November, I won’t have the luxury of not really having something to vote for. We must get this pathological narcissist out of the White House, and many of us will put our lives on the line, if necessary, to do it.

It’s really up to state officials, led by Merrill, to make sure Alabama voters can do that in as safe a way as possible, and the safest way cannot factor voter suppression into the mix. That may be too big a task for Merrill.

 

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